About the Holiday
World Bamboo Day was established in 2009 by the Thai Royal Forest Department during the 8th World Bamboo Congress held in Bangkok in order to raise awareness of bamboo around the world. The day is dedicated to educating people about this natural resource, to protect it and the environment, to ensure it sustainability, to promote new cultivation of bamboo for new industries in regions around the world, and to promote traditional uses for community economic development. This year’s theme is “Sustainability = Environment + Society + Economy. To learn more about World Bamboo Day and what you can do to help, visit the World Bamboo Organization’s website.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng
Written by Sophia Gholz | Illustrated by Kayla Harren
On Majuli Island in northeastern India, located in the Brahmaputra River, there is a mighty forest. The Molai Forest covers over 1,300 acres and contains thousands of different species of plants and trees. It is also home to many kinds of wildlife, including some endangered animals.
But the Molai Forest was not always there.
In 1979 young Jadav Payeng witnessed the devastating effects on Majuli Island from rising floodwaters, eroding land and killing wildlife. With an idea for saving his beloved island, Jadav began planting bamboo seedlings, which over time literally built a forest and an ecosystem from the ground up. In this true story, young readers will see that the mightiest of results really do begin with a small seed of an idea.
When a book is this inspiring, you just can’t wait to see it! But before we get to the book’s stunning cover, let’s meet the author and illustrator who are bringing this incredible story to kids.
Meet Sophia Gholz
Sophia Gholz is a children’s author, tree-hugger, music lover, magic seeker, and avid reader. Sophia grew up in the swamps of Florida, went to art school in Southern California, met her husband in Manhattan, and now enjoys life by the beach with her family. As a child, Sophia spent most of her time at the farm riding horses, causing mischief with her brothers, or exploring the globe with her parents. The latter often included tents and large forests. For more, find Sophia online at: www.sophiagholz.com
Hi, Kathy! Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and am so excited to reveal the cover of The Boy Who Grew a Forest!
What inspired you to write The Boy Who Grew a Forest?
I first learned about Jadav Payeng when I watched a short documentary film about him a few years ago. The instant the film began, I was completely fascinated with Jadav’s journey. Here is one single person who managed to plant an entire forest all by himself—what a feat! But more than that, Jadav’s mission wasn’t for fame or fortune—he had a vision and a passion to help the environment around him, and he worked tirelessly to do so.
To put it simply: I was in awe. I immediately began searching for interviews and updates on Jadav and the more I read, the more I knew I had to share this amazing story with others.
How did growing up in Florida influence your interest in environmental issues?
My youth in Florida was filled with forests. My father was a prominent forest ecologist and conservationist who, at the beginning of his career, worked with the University of Florida’s Forestry Department. My mother has two degrees: one in horticulture and one in science education and worked as both a science writer and freelance journalist. Our house was always filled with scientists from around the world, and we were constantly exposed to tales of the environment and faraway places. So, I was raised from day one with a deep love and appreciation for the environment (especially trees) and an interest in searching for wonderful stories to share.
I think what really struck me most about Jadav’s story was that his mission was one that everyone I knew while growing up fought for as well.
Can you tell me about your journey to publication with this book?
I wrote the initial manuscript a few years ago, and then set it aside for a while. This was one of those stories that was incredibly close to my heart and I feared I wouldn’t be able to capture it the right way. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About a year later, the Florida Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) put out a call for submissions to their annual Rising Kite Contest and, on a whim, I decided to submit The Boy Who Grew a Forest. You can imagine my surprise when my manuscript was awarded a Rising Kite in the nonfiction category! Winning that award was a turning point for me. I realized then that I couldn’t give up. My only hope was that this story would inspire others, like it did me.
When I read Sarah Rockett’s response to my manuscript, I knew she and the team at Sleeping Bear Press shared my passion for this story. And I was thrilled when they brought Kayla on board—her artistic style is beautiful and fitting. Working with them both has been a dream!
I’ve also had the chance to talk with the director of Jadav’s short film and am happy to know he’s excited for this book as well.
How exciting was it for you to see the final cover for The Boy Who Grew a Forest?
This is my debut picture book, and the first time I’ve witnessed one of my stories brought to life. From viewing initial sketches to full-color layouts, the entire experience has been beyond anything that I could have imagined.
On top of that, this book is particularly personal for me, so it’s been quite emotional. I definitely cried the first time I saw the cover. Not only is my name on a book—a real book!—but also Kayla’s illustrations are breathtaking. I think she’s done a phenomenal job of portraying Jadav and capturing the spirit of this story.
What can environmentally conscious children do to help protect nature?
There are so many ways we can all make positive changes on a daily basis. Simple things, like recycling and not using straws or plastic bags in order to lessen the amount of plastic in the world are great places to start. On a grander scale, reforestation efforts are vital to our future and the preservation of our planet. And, like Jadav has shown us, reforestation begins with planting. Children can start with seeds or seedlings for yard plants, house plants, gardens, or just spreading native seeds in the wild. Every little bit helps. We actually have a seed planting activity included in the book and will also share downloadable activities that kids can do in the classroom or at home.
What do you hope children will take away from The Boy Who Grew a Forest?
At its heart, this book is about a person who had a dream and refused to give up. I hope that after reading this, children are inspired to care for our planet. But most of all, I want children to know how important they are. Nothing is impossible, and it only takes one person to make a difference.
Meet Kayla Harren
Kayla Harren studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She is the author and illustrator of Mary Had a Little Lizard, as well as the illustrator of Hannah’s Tall Order: An A to Z Sandwich and many other books and projects. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
To learn more about Kayla, visit http://www.kaylaharren.com/
What intrigued you the most about this project?
Jadav and his amazing love of nature. His dedication to helping wildlife is truly inspiring. I get overwhelmed thinking about all the problems I can’t solve on my own, but then here is a person who takes action and saves an entire island by himself. It is an amazing story and a good reminder that making a difference really can start with just one person.
What kind of research did you do for creating the illustrations for The Boy Who Grew a Forest?
I watched the documentary Forest Man and knew instantly that I wanted to illustrate Jadav’s story. I watched many more interview videos of Jadav, read articles about his accomplishments, and read through Sophia’s bibliography for the book. I looked through images of Majuli, read about the flooding of the Brahmaputra River, and researched the various wildlife species in Jadav’s forest.
Can you describe the process in creating and choosing this gorgeous cover image?
I have Sleeping Bear Press designer Jennifer Bacheller to thank for the cover design. She played a big role in deciding the layout and I just filled in the spaces with plants and animals. I am a sucker for sunsets and warm light. Jadav’s story felt magical to me, so I wanted to hint at his extraordinary spirit with an orange glow around him and his forest.
The illustrations in your books, such as your recent Hannah’s Tall Order: An A to Z Sandwich, are so beautifully and richly detailed. What methods did you use to create the lush natural landscape in this book?
Aw thanks! I love adding details. One of my teachers in art school said that you can focus on any square inch of a great painting and it will be interesting. I try to keep that in mind when I am illustrating, I don’t want any part of the image to be wasted.
For this book I spent a lot of time in the sketch stage. I started studying a bunch of images of the forest, of Jadav, of each animal, of color palettes and lighting. I looked at reference photos to create rough sketches, but once I finished sketching I stopped looking at the references so I wouldn’t get too attached or copy the photos.
I drew on my computer so I could move elements around to get just the right composition. Once I was happy with a layout, I drew the lines with a pencil brush on my tablet. Then I began coloring layer by layer in Photoshop. I started with flat color, then added textures, then a layer of shadows, and finally details.
What inspired you to become an illustrator for children’s books and publications?
I don’t remember a defining moment when I decided to pursue picture book illustration. I think I always knew that if I was going to try making art my career, it had to be in children’s books. I have always loved books and fondly remember being read to as a child. I would fervently study the illustrations of each book as my mom read aloud. I learned to read pictures before I could read the words. Picture books are where my obsession with books began. My goal is to create illustrations that draw a child in and get them excited about learning to read the story the pictures are telling.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a children’s illustrator?
Definitely knowing that I play a role in helping children read and learn. I love when children notice small details I include in my illustrations that the parents pass right over. It is exciting to see children be observant and curious and inquisitive.
Thanks so much Sophia and Kayla! You’ve both put so much of yourselves and heart into The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng. I can’t wait to read the book when it comes out in March, and I’m sure readers are excited for it too!
To learn more about The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng, visit Sleeping Bear Press.
And now I’m thrilled to reveal…
The Boy Who Grew a Forest, will be released in March, 2019 from Sleeping Bear Press. The book is available for preorder at these booksellers
Picture Book Review